Mitigation potential of soil carbon management overestimated by neglecting N
2O emissions

   - Emanuele Lugato
   - Adrian Leip <>
   - Arwyn Jones <>

   - *Nature Climate Change*volume 8, pages219–223 (2018)
   - doi:10.1038/s41558-018-0087-z
   - Download Citation
      - Biogeochemistry <>
      - Climate sciences <>

Received:16 January 2017Accepted:22 January 2018Published online:26
February 2018


International initiatives such as the ‘4 per 1000’ are promoting enhanced
carbon (C) sequestration in agricultural soils as a way to mitigate
greenhouse gas emissions1
<>. However,
changes in soil organic C turnover feed back into the nitrogen (N) cycle2
<>, meaning that
variation in soil nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions may offset or enhance C
sequestration actions3
<>. Here we use a
biogeochemistry model on approximately 8,000 soil sampling locations in the
European Union4 <> to
quantify the net CO2 equivalent (CO2e) fluxes associated with
representative C-mitigating agricultural practices. Practices based on
integrated crop residue retention and lower soil disturbance are found to
not increase N2O emissions as long as C accumulation continues (until
around 2040), thereafter leading to a moderate C sequestration offset
mostly below 47% by 2100. The introduction of N-fixing cover crops allowed
higher C accumulation over the initial 20 years, but this gain was
progressively offset by higher N2O emissions over time. By 2060, around
half of the sites became a net source of greenhouse gases. We conclude that
significant CO2mitigation can be achieved in the initial 20–30 years of any
C management scheme, but after that N inputs should be controlled through
appropriate management.

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